Antecedents for successful collaboration in requirements engineering

Publication Date08 August 2016
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/VJIKMS-03-2016-0013
Pages353-370
Date08 August 2016
AuthorRisto Paavola,Petri Hallikainen
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,Knowledge management systems
Antecedents for successful
collaboration in
requirements engineering
Risto Paavola
Aalto University School of Business, Aalto, Finland, and
Petri Hallikainen
University of Sydney Business School, Sydney, Australia
Abstract
Purpose – The main focus of the requirements engineering (RE) literature has been on the technical
aspects related to the RE projects. Research has largely focused on the specic methods for collecting
the requirements for an information system. Much less research has been conducted on the social and
collaboration aspects of RE. To ll this gap, this paper aims to study the contribution of social factors,
such as social ties, knowledge sharing and exibility, for successful collaboration in RE teams.
Design/methodology/approach – The research followed the case study methodology. Data were
collected from a successful RE and development project in a public sector company in Finland. The
model for social collaboration by Kotlarsky and Oshri (2005) was applied as a starting point for analysis,
but new concepts emerged during the coding process.
Findings – The results suggest that human-related aspects, such as exibility, collective knowledge
and transactive memory, were important for successful collaborative work in the RE team studied. The
results show a clear connection between the collaboration factors in the RE process and the success of
the end product.
Originality/value – The article lls a clear gap in the RE literature. It shows that human-related
aspects are important in the RE process. This opens up new research avenues, such as investigating the
effect of human-related factors on the whole lifecycle of a project.
Keywords Knowledge sharing, Social ties, Requirements engineering, Successful collaboration
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The most critical part of information systems development (ISD) process is
requirements engineering (RE) (Schenk et al., 1998). A signicant portion of ISD failures
are attributed to incomplete and inaccurate information requirements (Byrd et al., 1992;
Vessey and Conger, 1993;Watson and Frolick, 1993;Wetherbe, 1991). Incorrect
requirements cause cost and schedule overruns in ISD projects (Vessey and Conger,
1994). It is crucial to conduct as complete as possible requirements for an information
system, as the cost of modifying the software after implementation or at a later stage in
the development process is considerably higher than that of making changes earlier in
the development process (Shemer, 1987).
RE is not, however, an easy task. It has been acknowledged in the literature that RE
is an iterative learning process (Majchrzak et al., 2005;Xu and Balasubramaniam, 2007).
Starting with high-level requirements, the RE process proceeds to more and more
detailed requirements. In this process, unexpected problems, such as issues related to
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/2059-5891.htm
Requirements
engineering
353
Received 13 March 2016
Revised 13 March 2016
Accepted 10 June 2016
VINEJournal of Information and
KnowledgeManagement Systems
Vol.46 No. 3, 2016
pp.353-370
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
2059-5891
DOI 10.1108/VJIKMS-03-2016-0013
technology or business processes, are likely to occur. Because RE is essentially an
iterative and a learning process, it is neither possible to foresee all the potential issues
nor to determine early in the process the individuals needed to solve those issues.
Against this backdrop, we propose that the interaction between people who inuence
and are inuenced by the RE process is crucial to achieve success.
The existing literature is rather silent about the social interaction related to the RE
processes and the role of the social network in the RE process. Earlier research has
acknowledged that the knowledge and experience of the team members is important for
RE (Liou and Chen, 1993). Aspects, such as team creativity, communication, motivation
and individual skills of the team members have also been discussed in the existing
literature (Tiwana and McLean, 2005). However, in the present research, we submit that
we should focus the attention beyond the RE team and to the wider social network.
There is a rather large body of literature on the formal techniques and methods for
RE. Some of the techniques developed include asking and deriving from existing
information system, strategy set transformation, decision analysis, socio-technical
analysis, interrogatories technique and a semantic questioning scheme (Ackoff, 1967;
Appan and Browne, 2012;Bostrom and Heinen, 1977a,1977b, and King, 1978). Formal
methods presented in the literature included, for example, analyst-driven requirement
engineering and collaborative requirement engineering (e.g. JAD). Although it is
acknowledged that stakeholder collaboration is essential for RE, we have not found
literature focusing on the informal social interaction within the RE process.
The objective of the present research is to investigate the social ties and knowledge
sharing in the social network within an RE process and how they affect successful
collaboration in the RE process. We draw from the model for successful collaboration in
virtual teams by Kotlarsky and Oshri (2005) to form the theoretical foundation for our
study. Although their model was tested in a slightly different context, we propose that
knowledge sharing and social ties are relevant factors also in the context of RE. A case
study where all the relevant participants in the RE process were interviewed is
presented in this paper.
The results show that particularly transactive memory was considered important for
successful collaboration in the RE process. Additionally, we discovered that “exibility”
had great importance to a successful RE process. It was evident that exibility in terms
of making compromises to reach an acceptable solution for all parties was very
important for reaching a successful outcome.
The article is organized as follows. The next section reviews the existing literature on
RE, and Section 3 briey describes the theoretical foundations for analyzing social ties
and knowledge sharing in the RE process. Section 4 explains the empirical research
methodology, and the ndings are presented in Section 4. Finally, the results are
discussed and the paper is concluded in Section 6.
2. Requirements engineering
The main focus of the RE literature has been on the technical aspects. Especially,
research has focused on the specic methods for collecting the requirements for an
information system. Much less research has been conducted on the social and
collaboration aspects of RE. To ll this gap, this paper has a new focus and it studies the
contribution of social factors in RE teams. The existing literature on RE is briey
described below, and the collaboration aspects in RE are discussed in Section 3.
VJIKMS
46,3
354

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